Bill Hermanson and Dave Szewczul (CSGA photo)
With six holes to play in the 74th Connecticut Senior Amateur, six players stood within three shots of the lead. It was anyone’s championship.
And then suddenly it was just two old friends battling for one more of many CSGA majors, in the end a single shot separating them.
Bill Hermanson won his second Senior Amateur at Black Hall Club today over Dave Szewczul, friend and frequent partner, himself a three-time Senior Amateur champion, by one shot. Hermanson shot 72, one over par, to finish the championship at 145 (+3) one clear of Szewczul, with whom Hermanson won back-to-back Two Man Championships at Black Hall in 2015 and 2016, and with whom he’ll compete for a spot in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball next week. Both are Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame members with dozens of CSGA titles between them.
Four shots back of the two old friends and finishing tied third were Jim Abbott of Indian Hill Country Club and Richard Stevens of the Eclub of Connecticut, both at 150.
But the final holes were really about the partners. With three holes left, they were already four shots clear of the field.
“I asked after 15 because I didn’t want to know before then. And at that point I knew we were a shot apart,” said Hermanson of Szewczul. Szewczul chose not to ask, but he sensed it. “I knew I was somewhere in the hunt just by the mood and everyone watching and starting to not talk as much. People came out to watch Billy and the way it got more quiet than usual. You just know. I was playing pretty well so I figured I’d be near the top.”
Due to the shotgun start, Hermanson’s final three holes were Nos. 16, 17 and 18 and Szewczul’s, 17, 18 and 1. Hermanson calculated that if he “parred out” he’d be fine. But as a Black Hallmember, he knew that trying to make pars, as opposed to playing to beat par, could be a test. “It’s hard trying to make pars, you know,” said Hermanson. This course has a way of beating you up when you try to make pars. I’ve played here enough to know that and yet it is still easy to fall into trying to get too conservative, which I kind of did there at the end. But this time it didn’t hurt me.”
It might have, but for three remarkable pars. On the 16th Hermanson drove into a right fairway bunker, and with water left, had to be conservative in his approach to the green. “I knew my miss had to be in the right bunker. Not that I was aiming there, but if I did it had to be right.” Hermanson called the bunker shot “a pretty simple little 60-degree shot’, but under the circumstances neither the shot nor the 4-foot putt that followed were simple. Spectators following what by this time was a “match,” some bouncing from the one group to the other, applauded when he holed it. “The short putts had been really bothering me this year, but this week I made most of them.”
At 17, Hermanson left his iron shot ten feet short of the green, about 90 feet from the flag. He putted to within about three feet and made that putt as well.
On 18 he tested himself further. A mishit hybrid off the tee left him in the fairway but 204 yards from a hole he routinely hits short irons into. “When I’m out playing with my buddies I always hit driver, down the middle. But I knew I had to just hit it in the fairway. I hit hybrid and had to hit another hybrid in there.” Which he did, to about 16 feet. His lag rolled about three feet by and he was left, for his final shot of the championship, a tricky side-hiller that he had to play about a cup outside the hole. “It’s one of those where you either make it or it goes four feet by,” said Hermanson.
He made it, to more applause. “I played so solidly for 33 holes and then those last three weren’t quite so solid,” he smiled when it was over. In the end, a club that is not always so kind to him, his putter, made the difference. At the 2018 Senior Amateur at Shorehaven Golf Club, Hermanson recalled today, he had 10 three-putts and lost by a single shot. “I don’t putt as badly here as I do everywhere else,” he smiled. “I like these greens.”
While Hermanson fought to close things out, Szewczul played steadily, parring the final four holes. It was an earlier hole, the par-5 14th, that in the end cost him. He tee shot, slightly left, landed on a root. He second went straight into the air off the root, advancing only a few yards. Still in the rough, he attempted to lay up to about wedge distance and miscalculated, sending his lay up into a penalty area. The result was double bogey. Minutes later Hermanson put a perfect tee shot in the the middle of the fairway on 14 and hit three-wood to the front of the green. He two-putted for birdie and that three-shot difference ultimately decided the championship.
And though he made a miraculous birdie on the 15th, hitting a 163-yard 5-iron under tree branches—from the left rough again—to about 15 feet, Szewczul was one behind his old friend at plus 4, and that’s the way it ended. They both shot one-over 72s, and the one-shot difference after round one remained.
Szewczul, recovering this year from multiple back and hip surgeries last, chose to embrace a different victory when it was over.
“Hats off to Bill. I’m really happy for him. He’s my best bud. And I gave it a good shot. I’m a competitor just like him. He wants to beat my brains out and I want to beat his brains out and then we go out to dinner with our wives. The friendship lasts a lot longer than the golf. Given where I was ten months ago in a walker to be out here playing and competing is beyond my dreams.”
For Hermanson, 62, it was his fifth major victory at Black Hall, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., and opened in 1967. He won four consecutive Mid-Amateur championships here from 1990 to 1993. And today he won a battle with an old friend, partner and teammate.
“I kind of figured he’d be there at the end,” he smiled.